The Rat Pack: A Tribute

May 12, 2011, 1:56 PM |

 Let's take a trip back to the Vegas Strip circa 1960 or so and groove on the coo-coo vibe that was the Rat Pack. Shine your Mary Janes and grab your favorite cocktail cutie because this is where it's at ... Ring-a-ding-ding!

The Rat Pack was Frank Sinatra, Dean (Dino) Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop and for a brief stint Norman Fell. Often, when one of the members was scheduled to give a performance, the rest of the Pack would show up for an impromptu show, causing much excitement among audiences, resulting in return visits. They sold out almost all of their appearances, and people would come pouring into Las Vegas, sometimes sleeping in cars and hotel lobbies when they could not find rooms, just to be part of the Rat Pack entertainment experience. In 1960 Peter Lawford brought a movie script to Frank Sinatra "Ocean's 11" a heist film were a group of world war II veterans would rob five different casinos in a single night. Sinatra decided they would film on location in Las Vegas during the day and perform two shows a night at the Sands Hotel. Ocean's 11 would be the apex for The Rat Pack. The members would slowly leave until by 1965 the group consisted of the core members Frank, Dino and Sammy.

The Rat Pack in front of the Sands Hotel sign during the filming of "Oceans 11" Frank, Dean, Sammy, Peter, and Joey.


Scene from "Ocean's 11" Frank, Dean, Peter, and Sammy.

In the spring of 1961 filming began on the second Rat Pack movie Sergeants Three again Peter Lawford shared the spot light with Frank, Dean, and Sammy while Joey Bishop brought up the rear. Sergeants Three was a box office success in 1962.


Frank, Peter, Sammy and Dean during the filming of Sergeants Three.

The Rat Pack with Johnny Carson performing "Birth of the Blues" at the Keil Opera house in St. Louis, Missouri, 1965.

Frank Sinatra - Was the founding member of the Rat Pack and was known as "The Chairman of the Board". He was born December 12, 1915 in Hoboken, New Jersey. Sinatra began his career singing with the Harry James and Tommy Dorsey orchestras. By the mid-1940's he had became a successful solo artist. In 1944 Sinatra made his acting debut in the film "Higher and Higher". In 1953 he won his first Golden Globe and Academy Award for "From here to Eternity". He would win two more Academy Awards for Best Original Song, "All the Way" from the movie "The Joker is Wild", 1957 and "High Hopes" from "A Hole in the Head", 1959. He would also win an Emmy for "Frank Sinatra: A man and his Music" and a Grammy for "Strangers in the Night". In 1960 he left Capitol Records to form his own label Reprise Records.  

Sinatra garnered considerable attention due to his alleged personal and professional links with organized crime figures such as Carlo Gambino, Sam Giancana, Lucky Luciano and Joseph Fischetti.  

In 1960, Sinatra and his friends Peter Lawford, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. actively campaigned for John F.Kennedy throughout the United States. In January 1961, Sinatra and Peter Lawford organized the Inaugural Gala in Washington, D.C., held on the evening before new President John F. Kennedy was sworn into office. Sinatra's move toward the Republicans seems to have begun when he was snubbed by President Kennedy in favor of Bing Crosby, a rival singer and a Republican, for Kennedy's visit to Palm Springs, in 1962. Kennedy had planned to stay at Sinatra's home over the Easter holiday weekend, but decided against doing so because of Sinatra's alleged connections to organized crime,. Kennedy stayed at Bing Crosby's house instead. Sinatra had invested a lot of his own money in upgrading the facilities at his home in anticipation of the President's visit. At the time, President Kennedy's brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, was intensifying his own investigations into organized crime figures such as Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana, who had earlier stayed at Sinatra's home.

 During his career Sinatra would release 69 albums and 297 singles. He hosted two tv variety series both called "The Frank Sinatra Show" 1950-1952 on CBS and on ABC 1957-1958. He also hosted 4 Timex tv specials on ABC 1959-1960. The last Timex Special was called "Welcome Home Elvis" it featured Elvis Presley in his first tv appearance since coming home from his military service in Germany. In 1965 he made the tv special "Frank Sinatra: A Man and his Music for NBC.  Sinatra Died May 14,1998, he was 82 years old. On May 13 2008 the U.S. Postal Service issued a 42-cent stamp in his honor.

Dean Martin - Born June 7, 1917 in Steubenville, Ohio as Dino Paul Crocetti. He spoke only italian until he started school. As a teenager he took up the drums as a hobby. He was the target of much ridicule because of his broken english and ultimately dropped out of high school in the 10th grade. He delivered bootleg liquor, served as a speakeasy croupier, was a blackjack dealer, worked in a steel mill and boxed as welterweight. He grew up a neighbor to Jimmy The Greek. At the age of 15, he was a boxer who billed himself as "Kid Crochet". His prizefighting years earned him a broken nose (later straightened), a scarred lip, and many sets of broken knuckles (a result of not being able to afford the tape used to wrap boxers' hands). Of his twelve bouts, he would later say "I won all but eleven." Dean gave up boxing and started singing with local bands calling himself Dino Martini, he got his first break working for the Ernie McKay Orchestra.

By 1946, Martin was doing relatively well, but was still little more than an East Coast nightclub singer with a common style, similar to that of Bing Crosby. He drew audiences to the clubs he played, but he inspired none of the fanatic popularity enjoyed by Sinatra. This would all change when he met a young comedian named Jerry Lewis. Martin and Lewis officialy debuted on July 24, 1946 at Atlantic City's 500 Club. They did slapstick, old vaudeville jokes and what ever else popped into their heads. Martin and Lewis became major stars in 1949, they signed a contract with NBC for a radio series that ran from 1949-1953. The duo also debuted the tv version of their "Martin & Lewis" radio show on NBC tv. They signed a contract with Paramount and their first movie "My Friend Irma" was released in 1949.  Martin and Lewis would make 16 movies together and become one of the most successful comedy teams in history. They would break up in 1956 after a 10 year partnership.

Most people felt Martin's career was over with out Lewis. His first solo movie Ten Thousand Bedrooms was a failure. Then in 1957 he co-stared in the film "The Young Lions" which was a huge success, Martin was back on top. In 1960 he was nominated for a Golden Globe award for Best Actor in the movie "Who was that Lady". In 1965 Martin launched his tv variety series "The Dean Martin Show" on NBC, it would run until 1974. NBC retooled the show in 1974 as the "Dean Martin Celebrity Roast" these specials would air until 1984.

During his career Martin would appear in 59 movies, release 47 albums and 83 singles. He is one of a few stars who has been successful in all entertainment media, radio, tv, movies, music and stage. Dino died on Christmas morning 1995 at the age of 78. The lights of the Las Vegas strip were dimmed in his honor. In 2005, Las Vegas renamed Industrial Road as Dean Martin Drive. A similarly named street was dedicated in 2008 in Rancho Mirage, California.

Sammy Davis, Jr. - Was born Samuel George Davis, Jr. in New York City, New York on December 8, 1925. His parents Sammy Davis, Sr. and Elvera Sanchez, were vaudeville dancers. During his lifetime, Davis stated that his mother was Puerto Rican and born in San Juan; however, in the 2003 biography In Black and White, author Wil Haygood writes that Davis, Jr.'s mother was born in New York City to Cuban parents, and that Davis. claimed she was Puerto Rican because he feared anti-Cuban backlash would hurt his record sales. When he was three years old, his parents separated. His father, not wanting to lose custody of his son, took him on tour. Davis learned to dance from his father and his "uncle" Will Mastin, who led the dance troupe his father worked for. Davis joined the act as a child and they became the Will Mastin Trio. In 1951 Davis became an overnight sensation following a nightclub performance at Ciro's after the Academy Awards, with the trio. Sammy nearly died in an automobile accident on November 19, 1954 in San Bernardino, Californa, as he was making a return trip from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. Davis lost his left eye as a result; he wore an eye patch for at least six months following the accident. Sammy was hired to sing the title track for the Universal Pictures film "Six Bridges to Cross", recording it on December 2, 1954.

After his discharge from the Army, Davis rejoined the family dance act, which played at clubs around Portland, Oregon.  He began to achieve success on his own and was singled out for praise by critics, releasing several albums. This led to his appearance in the Broadway play "Mr. Wonderful" in 1956.

In 1959, Davis became a member of the famous "Rat Pack", led by his friend Frank Sinatra. Davis was a headliner at The Frontier Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, but he was required (as were all black performers in the 1950s) to lodge in a rooming house on the west side of the city, instead of in the hotels as his white colleagues did. No dressing rooms were provided for black performers, and they had to wait outside by the swimming pool between acts. During his early years in Las Vegas, Davis and other Black artists could entertain, but usually could not stay at the hotels where they performed, gamble in the casinos, nor dine or drink in the hotel restaurants and bars. Davis later refused to work at places which practiced racial segregation. In 1964 Sammy starred in the Broadway play "Golden Boy". On December 11, 1967, NBC broadcast a musical-variety special entitled "Movin' With Nancy". In addition to the Emmy Award-winning musical performances, the show is notable for Nancy Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. greeting each other with a kiss, one of the first black-white kisses in U.S. television history.

During his career Davis would Star in 39 movies, 4 broadway plays, release 47 albums and 38 singles. He would host his own tv show on NBC tv which ran from Jan. 1966 - March 1966. Sammy Davis, Jr. died May 16 1990 of complications from throat cancer. On May 18, 1990, the lights of the Las Vegas Strip were darkened for ten minutes, as a tribute to him.


Peter Lawford - Born Peter Sydney Vaughn Aylen on September 7, 1923 in London, England. He was the son of Sir Sydney Turing Barlow Lawford and May Somerville Bunny. At the time of Lawford's birth, May Somerville Bunny was married to Captain Ernest Vaughn Aylen. After his birth, Bunny confessed to Aylen that the child was not his, and he promptly divorced her. Sir Sydney Lawford and Bunny were married on September 1924. Lawford spent his early childhood in France and due to the family's travels was never formaly educated. In America, Sir Sydney and Lady Lawford were treated as royalty among the well-to-do in their new neighbourhood of Plam Beach, Florida, and were always invited to events and social occasions. However, they lost whatever source of money they had when war was declared by the UK in 1939. In 1930 Lawford made his acting debut in the english film "Poor Old Bill".  When World War II began Lawford was not eligable for military sevice due to an injury he recieved to his arm at age 14, but proved a great boon to his career.  At that time, Hollywood was infatuated with heroic Englishmen, and as war films were being churned out by the dozen and American actors volunteered or were drafted for the war, Lawford found work in many films in the United States.

In 1954 he married Patricia Kennedy, sister of then US Senator and future President John F. Kennedy. Lawford officially became an American citizen on April 23, 1960; he had prepared for this in time to vote for his brother-in-law in the upcoming presidential election. Lawford, along with other members of the "Rat Pack", helped campaign for Kennedy and the Democratic Party. Sinatra famously dubbed him "Brother-in-Lawford" at this time. In 1962 Lawford fell out of favor with Sinatra when he was snubbed by President Kennedy. Kennedy had planned to stay at Sinatra's home over the Easter holiday weekend, but decided against doing so because of Sinatra's alleged connections to organized crime. This ended Lawford's association with the Rat Pack, although he and Sammy Davis, Jr. would continue to work together.

During his career Lawford made 48 movies and starred in two NBC tv series. The NBC sitcom "Dear Phoebe" which aired from 1954-1955, and the NBC comedy/drama "The Thin Man" from 1957-1959. He would also costar on various tv series and game shows. For his contribution to the television industry, Lawford has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Peter Lawford died on Christmas Eve 1984 in Los Angeles.

Joey Bishop - Born February 3, 1918 in Bronx, New York as Joseph Abraham Gottlieb. Bishop began his career as part of a standup comedy act with his elder brother, Maury. He guest-hosted on television's "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" more times than anyone else, having also frequently appeared on Steve Allen's and Jack Paar's previous versions of "The Tonight Show". 

During his career, he starred in a sitcom "The Joey Bishop Show" which aired from 1961-1965, first on NBC and later on CBS. He later hosted a late-night talk show, also titled "The Joey Bishop Show" on ABC tv. His sidekick was then new-comer Regis Philbin. Bishop made 14 movies and guest starred on various tv series and game shows. Bishop died on October 17, 2007 at his home in Newport Beach, California. Bishop was the last living member of The Rat Pack. He lived the longest number of years among the principal five.

The Rat Pack may be gone but they are not forgotten. Their music, movies and memories are very much a part of our culture today. Many tribute artist and shows are centered around the nostalgia that is The Rat Pack.

Sandy Hackett's Rat Pack Show appearing at the Las Vegas Hotel and Casino (formerly the Las Vegas Hilton) Las Vegas. I've seen the touring version of the show...Excellent! 

Me with the Rat Pack...Sammy, Frank and Dino...Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, Las Vegas.